As our nation wrestles with the economic fallout of COVID-19, senators are deciding whether or not to expand the eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.
Sen. Joni Ernst and I were both born in rural southwest Iowa in July 1970. We came of age during the farm crisis of the 1980s. My family’s farm was helped by smart government through farm policy meant to save family farms. In 1989, as the state was beginning to recover from the worst of the economic collapse, I went to college because of smart government with grants and loans. A few years earlier, at the height of the crisis when my family’s bank failed, my parents signed up me and my siblings for free school lunch.
The pink, instead of yellow, lunch ticket wasn’t about keeping me from starving, but it did help my family have extra money to spend on other essentials.
Farming as a teenager, I wore cheap tennis shoes rather than more expensive boots. I grew faster than I wore out jeans, so they were often several inches too short. Walking into the cafe for lunch with the hay crew with worn out tennis shoes and high-water pants, I was aware of the financial struggles of my parents. Like a terrace holds back water, smart government, including free school lunch, helped me and my family from being washed into the river of poverty.
During this pandemic, we are seeing millions of families fall deeper into poverty and some Americans falling into that river for the first time. We need to find ways to put partisan differences aside and grab the tools of smart government to build the terraces that can keep families from being washed deeper into poverty. SNAP is one of our best tools for this crisis.
Gov. Kim Reynolds recently expanded some SNAP programs in Iowa. We need Sens. Chuck Grassley and Ernst to join Reynolds in putting aside partisan talking points and use the tools of smart government to expand SNAP.
All three, like me, are personally familiar with the consequences of the historic, widespread economic crisis of the 1980s. We know firsthand how smart government helped get rural Americans back on our feet.
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I believe in programs like SNAP because I was a rural kid who grew up not quite in poverty but right next door. And smart government is what empowered me to move solidly into the middle class rather than being trapped in poverty simply by the timing of my birth.
My school superintendent in the 1980s invited families to sign up for free lunch. His pitch - “this is the right thing for our community. If you qualify, please sign up. It helps our school and it helps our community. So do it for your families but more importantly do it for the community.” That’s smart government.
As a farmer, I say thank you to every family using SNAP. You are helping our economy. You are helping move food from farms to kitchen tables. You are helping pay the wages of essential workers at the grocery store.
Anyone who qualifies for SNAP, please sign up. Use this smart government tool funded by your fellow Americans to not only feed your family but to help get this economy unstuck.
Sens. Grassley and Ernst, thank you for all the times you’ve put country before party and thought out of the box to use the tools of smart government. Please do so again and join the bipartisan effort to expand SNAP benefits.
The real moral hazard in this crisis is in leaving a really important, smart government tool hanging on the wall above the workbench rather than pulling it down and putting it to work for farmers, rural communities, families deciding between rent and meals and the economy that needs to recover. For me, and it’s personal. The most important reason to expand SNAP in this crisis is to help American kids have the same chance I had to not fall deeper into poverty simply because they’re living in a historic economic crisis.
Matt Russell of Lacona is executive director Iowa Interfaith Power and Light.